Girls basketball: New class of Kennedy Trojans maintains title aspirations
Sixteen hours after the Kennedy softball team won the 2018 2A State Championship for the program's first state title in school history on June 1, the Trojans weren't celebrating. They weren't at home, sleeping in on a Saturday morning, enjoying the fruits of their labor. They were in the gym.
Those who weren't graduating the next weekend were dressed in high tops and basketball shorts, wearing Kennedy's summer basketball jerseys to represent the Trojans at North Marion High School's girls basketball tournament to kick off summer league.
"It's pretty awesome," Kennedy co-head coach Kerry Hall said. "They all want to be successful and they know what it takes, they're willing to put in the work."
Many of the girls are coming off of back-to-back state titles, winning a basketball championship under Hall and her co-head coach Peter Hall in March and following it with the softball title in June. Kerry Hall credits much of the titles to what goes on behind the scenes — the parents shuttling kids to and from practices, games, tournaments. Those coaching youth leagues, preparing future high school athletes for the commitment expected of them when they put on the Trojan jersey.
"This community is so great," Kerry Hall said. "Their parents know what it takes to win titles. They're so supportive, always there and ready to push their girls to the next level."
With this year's graduation, the Kennedy basketball team bid farewell to half its varsity roster. Gone are starters Hannah Arritola, Molly Jaeger and Kaylin Cantu. So, too, go reserves Abby Frey, Kaylee Brown and Hope Garcia.
The strength of this year's team, which went 29-1 and lost its only game to the 3A champion Dayton Pirates, was the continuity provided by bringing back every player from the year before. Now the Trojans are not just looking to replace six seniors, but the experience they brought to the team over the past four years, spanning four trips to the state quarterfinal tournament and state titles in 2016 and 2018.
But the coaching staff isn't worried about developing new rotations and figuring out who will fill in the starting roles. That will sort itself out naturally over the course of summer league games and practices and the coming season when the team gets back together in November.
"I think you could ask me this question my first couple years of coaching, I'd be more stressed out," Peter Hall said. "I think now we just know this is where we're at. Just keep working and keep improving. Effort — that's the thing you gotta have."
That effort has become a tradition at Kennedy over time. The modern championship culture in Mount Angel girls athletics began with the track and field program's state title in 2014. The two basketball championships followed, and then softball. The girls walking through the halls of JFK as freshmen for the first time this year have grown up knowing that Trojans are synonymous with champions, and there is a lot of expectation and excitement for incoming athletes to maintain that prestige through the next class of students.
Those six seniors may be gone, but that just opens up new opportunities for bench players, JV players and incoming freshmen to earn new roles or a place on the team and prove that the JFK dynasty doesn't walk out the door with the 2018 graduating class.
"I think our biggest struggle right now is meshing of the team, because there's so many different age groups going on," Kerry Hall said. There are the incoming seniors — Kalyssa Kleinschmit and Clarissa Traeger, juniors Sophia Carley and Ibeth Gomez and sophomores Elise Suing, Hailey Arritola and Ellie Cantu.
And then there are a number of young JV players who were part of the softball title: juniors Emily Cuff and Grace Schaecher, along with sophomores like Rylie Newton and Kelsey Kleinschmit.
"They all played tournament ball separately," Kerry Hall said. "I think that's going to be our biggest thing is getting them to mesh and play differently."
Working in the coaching staff's favor is the sheer athleticism of the returning athletes. Kerry and Peter Hall were able to platoon last year's team, allowing the bench players to earn nearly as much playing time as the starters. Carley — the 2A State Player of the Year — barely averaged more time on the court than she sat on the bench.
"Everyone averaged about 12 minutes a game," Kerry Hall said. "We played a lot of girls last year. I think our biggest struggle will be just experience. Those seniors have had a lot of experience, and those younger girls have had a lot as well, but not four years' worth."
They are excited to prove they have what it takes, though. They have picked up just where they left off and the Hall coaches know the best way to maintain their championship caliber program is through continuity year after year.
"Every year I feel it's just the same," Peter Hall said. "New season and new goals are the same. Win a league title every year. And if we fail, we just go over it again next year."